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Normal People – Sally Rooney

normalpeopleSometimes reading a novel by and about young people – like the dark and twisted Lolito by Ben Brooks – makes me feel old. Rooney’s super cool, Award Winning Normal People makes me feel very old indeed. Crusty. Wrinkled. And very, very, very Vanilla.

The Guardian described this as Austen with hangovers (Connell is reading Emma at one point) in places it felt more/most like When Harry Met Sally with bondage or Twin Peaks in Sligo.

At first I loved this book; fell in love with Marianne and Connell and their sexy on/off relationship. Rooney is so refreshing writing about sex, in two sentences she moves from routine to rude (really rude!) and back again. No dwelling, just letting you know in no uncertain terms that M & C are really Gettin it On (take note Franzen, take note all you Bloke Authors lingering on the sexual act with your long over descriptive passages, when the Reader thinks ‘hey, this isn’t about the character this is about you! Just bang one out already and get on with it!)

Rooney has created a deceptively simple Girl Meets Boy novel that had me screaming ‘just tell her you love her/him’ (I listened to Aoife McMahon’s beautiful narration) and agreeing wholeheartedly with Lorraine (Connell’s mum) ‘in my day you were either seeing someone or you weren’t’.

And this is when I felt old, I felt old and I felt sad. Sad for my children growing up in this era of open relationships and friends with benefits and fuck buddies and polyamory and plural relationships and dating apps and mating apps and hook-ups. And I felt old. Old and sick. Sick and tired. And slowly I began to feel repelled by Marianne (especially) and weary of monosyllabic Connell.

And then Marianne declares that she is a ‘Submissive’ that she enjoys being beaten. Like Connell I was shocked, shocked and angry, shocked and protective, protective of this imaginary woman in this imaginary book – so, fair play Sally; it’s obviously a very well written book.

And then Marianne spirals, darker and darker into a masochistic cesspit. And her brokenness and fragility become more apparent. And I feel shallow, I feel like a fair weather friend because I like her less. I like her less and less.

And I want happy endings (especially to romances, and this is a romance!) I really want Connell’s ‘goodness’ to cure her of her ‘submissiveness’ her ‘masochism’. I want him to lift her up. Not for her to drag him down.

And finally, finally after years of will he, won’t he, will she, won’t she; finally they fuck! And I think great – cos, to be fair Rooney you’ve written a great book, but these two are seriously outstaying their welcome – and Marianne says ‘hit me’.

And I think – oh fuck off! Fuck off Marianne! You are just too unlovable for me. And I felt old, I felt old and I felt sad. Sad for my children growing up in this era of S&M, of cable ties and choking, of 50 shades and submission and dominance. Sad for these ‘Millennials’ with their fucking smartphones and their ‘social media’ and their streaming and their nasty, rough, porny, squalid sex lives.

So finally he is accepted in New York – and he doesn’t tell Marianne he was applying, but he does tell Sadie. And Marianne is all ‘do you love her?’ And now I’m screaming – NO! Have we not fucking established that he loves you Marianne? I mean how much fucking reassurance do you need? And as a submissive do you have any rights? Seriously if you need men to hit you to get off, DO YOU HAVE ANY RIGHTS? Have you not capitulated? Have you not submitted, succumbed, surrendered?

And way way back, when Marianne first told Connell she was A Submissive he asked if she had wanted him to hit her. And she said, No. No because ‘I am myself when I am with you’. And later when Rooney describes Marianne’s feelings during sex with the bastards; the domineering misogynist wife beaters (call it what it is, don’t dress it up) it’s an ugly unpleasant feeling, compared to the fun sexy times with Connell. So why would she want Connell to hit her.
Run Connell! Run to New York! Walk the walk, talk the talk, run to New York.

Rooney has written a great book.

I fucking hated it.

Purity – Jonathan Franzen

franzen Dick, dick, pecker, pecker, hard on!
A recent BBC article reported that heterosexual women have fewer orgasms than men or lesbian or bisexual women. Few heterosexual women climaxed through penetrative sex alone, the report said “of particular importance was incorporating oral sex along with other activities during a sexual encounter”. Who orgasmed the most? Straight men!

This is the 3rd Franzen book I’ve read (and enjoyed) but I lent Freedom to my mum and she couldn’t get on with it; why? Too much dick. Dick, dick, pecker, pecker, hard on!

Purity has a character, Andreas whose personality is that he is a hyper-intelligent, control-freak who favours cunnilingus (or ‘pussy’, as he puts it – I know YUK!).

Foreplay is SO rare in Franzen’s universe that it is a character trait! Or rather the only foreplay in Franzen’s universe is … dick sucking.

So much awful sex in this book, so much; and yes there is always a place for horrid embarrassing clumsy sex. But sometimes you get the feeling that this is normal in the Franzen universe – cunnilingus is plain weird and dick, dick, pecker, pecker hard on.

And not just the sex but every erection or semi is described, and other behaviours are described using dicky adjectives, “he liked such and such so much it gave him a hard on”(!) Is it just me but the only thing that gives a hard on is sex (although I’ve never actually murdered anybody so…)
Andreas was an engaging character, and a zealous cunniliguist but he would surely never say ‘pussy’ or ‘teen pussy’ (I know he was supposed to be yuk but; yuk!) he might say ‘muschi’ or ‘mumu(s)’ – yes I’ve just looked up ‘German slang for vagina’; really Franzen I know you write your book in a web free zone but really?!?
Rant over, much to enjoy in this huge book. Reading Pip I worried about how many co-workers I think I’m harmlessly flirting with….

The Yellow Wall-Paper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

the-yellow-wallpaper-9781627933957_hr…in year 9 my daughter kept getting “read a Classic novel (pre 1914) in 2 weeks(!!)” for homework
I really think it’s quite a tall order for a 14 year old – Classic Lit is so ponderous; so ploddy – a two week turnaround is practically asking the kid to wiki it!
So Librarian dad Googled “short classics” and came up with: metamorphosis- Kafka; Jekyll & Hyde – Stephenson; Turn of the Screw – James and this.

I had never never heard of Yellow Wallpaper or Gilman. and Wow! wow wow wow wow!

This (really short) novel (novella? short story?) doesn’t fit the Classic Novel category at all – it’s not ponderous; plodding or over descriptive.

its spookier than Henry James; more twisted even than Kafka, it doesn’t waste time like Jekyll and Hyde on pointless plot and the language isn’t so wordy wordy wordy (Poe) that you can’t quite make out what’s actually happening. but mostly Yellow Wallpaper is so modern. her slide into hallucination and mental illness so chilling and the ‘ghosts’ really fucking frightening. psychedelic – like a bad mushroom trip; sludgy and morbid (yellow wallpaper not purple Paisley) and you’re trapped for about 8 hours.

But actually; you’ll never be well again

Black Wave – Michelle Tea

black waveHenry enjoyed Black Wave immensely, it had been a while since he had enjoyed the drug and squalor of the addict. Henry was surprised by the Apocalyptic second part; he felt that there were lots of great ideas, maybe even too many ideas. Henry wondered if Michelle should have left some of these ideas in her notebook – for possible future novels. Henry sincerely hopes that Michelle doesn’t run out of ideas (like Stevie Wonder and David Bowie in the 80s and Prince in the 90s) as he likes her style. The 1st chapter of Los Angeles, the ‘Meta chapter’ surprised Henry, he didn’t think it was ‘that sort of novel’ – he wondered if this was better left in Michelle’s notebook. That said, Henry enjoyed that chapter a lot. Maybe – Henry wondered – maybe it should have been an epilogue. YES Henry thought; I would have put that as an epilogue – sort of a bonus DVD extra. That said, Michelle is a bona fide artist, poet and Henry is just a (privileged) white male living in a small town in the south of England. So really what would he know.
Henry fantasised that if Michelle met him in real life, that they would get on – that she would invite him to one of her squalid drug parties. Especially when she started sleeping with Matt Dylan. But there was no indication in Black Wave that Michelle would like him, and he would be too frightened to attend one of her parties anyway.

This Is Memorial Device – David Keenan

memorial device
…in places this is wonderful, evocative, influential (I actually bought The Stooges Fun House) the different narrators made it difficult to connect emotionally.
However, there were a few occasions historical inaccuracies that let down the narrative. and they are about sex – so; y’know; you have been warned.
There were only two references to vaginas (usually a book has none – so this may be positive or no) and both of them were bald! hairless! which – I’m no expert but – hairless bits wasn’t really a thing in the mid 80s. granted I hadn’t seen one for real (unless you count family members – we were a free and easy family at one with nudity) but I mean in the “literature” downstairs baldness did not become a thing until the proliferation of American Internet pornography. late 90s early 00s
But I’m no expert.

And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder – Deborah Spungen

nancy

weirdly; this was my mum’s book – it was in our bookshelf at home, and I used to flick through the pictures. In 83 I didn’t know what Punks were; I used to conflate them with the IRA – because they hated the Queen; and Clint Eastwood (!) because they were “bad men”. They represented everything ‘rotten’. But I was fascinated by the pictures; something weird and intriguing about Sid; he could be handsome – but he don’t care! And to my 13 year old self Nancy was so sexy.
So this book is part of the furniture, part of the home. Then I watched Rock and Roll Swindle (last day of term at school in the drama room) I was blown away! the Filth! The Fury! Annabella Lwin!
Finally I read this tragic; tragic book.
loved it. poor Nancy. poor Sid. poor long suffering Nancy’s mum!
Lent it to my (then) girlfriend. she split up with me. lost the book on a train. replaced it by mail order (it was out of print) finally returned it. Never read it. All unrelated I’m sure. Never mind. Nevermind.
After that I always found the Rock n Roll deification of Nancy and Sid: tee shirts; that film; a bit queasy

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

resevoir-13

The synopsis of Reservoir 13 reads like a clichéd crime setup: rural village, missing girl, the search for a body, the search for a perpetrator. But
McGregor’s tale is a meditation on village life after a tragedy: seasons unfold, things change, babies are born, there’s a funeral, people arrive in the village and leave, the teenagers go to university and some come back again.

And everywhere there is nature; fieldfares flock, foxes prowl and “The woods were thick with the stink of wild garlic and the leaves gleamed darkly along the paths”.

All the time, over thirteen years, we expect the body of the girl (“Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex”) to be found, the crime to be solved but although McGregor teases us; Reservoir 13 refuses to be conventional crime fiction.

England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock – Jon Savage

savage

You really don’t have to like either the Sex Pistols or Punk Rock to enjoy this book.

Essentially it’s the story of a pop tragedy: spoilt brat art student starts a band – the Sex Pistols – to “sell a lot of trousers”. The Pistols accidentally start a youth movement and upset everybody before it all ends catastrophically with substance abuse, rancour, lawsuits and murder.
It reads like fiction and encompasses: the winter of discontent; the long hot summer of ’76; the Jubilee and England descending into urban decay; unemployment; financial crisis and disaffected youth.

But the real star of the book is the great city of London itself.

Winter – Ali Smith

winter

Simon Reynolds said (of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs) that if you keep making the same album over and again by about the fourth time you’ll get it right. It seems almost churlish to complain that an Ali Smith novel is too, too…Ali Smithy? Ali Smithesque? Ali Smithsonian?
It is akin to when Kate Bush releases a new long player, if you like Kate Bush you’ll love it, it will be, broadly speaking good – not as good as Hounds of Love but; good intelligent pop ‘let the weirdness in.’ More specifically it will be Kate Bushy – it’s unlikely to sound like Guns ‘n’ Roses or Michael Bolton.

The same with any Ali Smith, it will be good – not as good as ‘How to be Both’ but; good intelligent fiction ‘let the weirdness in’. Furthermore (furtherless); I could substitute any of my reviews for Ali’s books (except ‘How to be both’.)
Don’t take my word for it (actually you really could/should)

Autumn
Hotel World
Artful

How many times or ways can I keep saying the same thing? I really like Ali Smith, I love the warm feeling as I settle back into her Universe: of Ghosts and Social Conscience and cool lesbians and talented articulate young people and well-mannered wise older people and resident Artists and mean old modern Britain. I love her Modernism Light (not ‘lite’ not ‘dumbed down’ but Light – nimble, agile sprightly.)
She is the voice of my conscience: after reading Winter I resolved to be nicer to my mother; after reading Hotel World I bought a sandwich for a street sleeper. After reading Ali Smith I want to be that precocious child, that cool lesbian, that resident Artist, that dismembered Ghost.
Her fiction is very pretentious, and so am I. She flatters my intellect, she makes me laugh. Her novels are Weightless Modernist; Wispy Modernist; Featherlike.
If I was her girlfriend…

My only teeny tiny disappointment is that Christmas isn’t really Winter. Not Real Winter. Real Winter is the really fucking dragging bit, joyless January, Freezing February and Most Of March and, yes Prince; sometimes it does bloody snow in April! !!

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